Cover image for Reading & writing : a personal account
Reading & writing : a personal account
Naipaul, V. S. (Vidiadhar Surajprasad), 1932-
Publication Information:
New York : New York Review of Books, [2000]

Physical Description:
64 pages ; 21 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR9272.9.N32 Z47 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PR9272.9.N32 Z47 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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I was eleven, no more, when the wish came to me to be a writer; and then very soon it was a settled ambition. But for the young V. S. Naipaul, there was a great distance between the wish and its fulfillment. To become a writer, he would have to find ways of understanding three very different cultures: his family's half-remembered Indian homeland, the West Indian colonial society in which he grew up, and the wholly foreign world of the English novels he read.

In this essay of literary autobiography, V. S. Naipaul sifts through memories of his childhood in Trinidad, his university days in England, and his earliest attempts at writing, seeking the experiences of life and reading that shaped his imagination and his growth as a writer. He pays particular attention to the traumas of India under its various conquerors and the painful sense of dereliction and loss that shadows writers' attempts to capture the country and its people in prose.

Naipaul's profound reflections on the relations between personal or historical experience and literary form, between the novel and the world, reveal how he came to discover both his voice and the subjects of his writing, and how he learned to turn sometimes to fiction, sometimes to the travel narrative, to portray them truthfully. Along the way he offers insights into the novel's prodigious development as a form for depicting and interpreting society in the nineteenth century and its diminishing capacity to do the same in the twentiethÑa task that, in his view, passed to the creative energies of the early cinema.

As a child trying to read, I had felt that two worlds separated me from the books that were offered to me at school and in the libraries: the childhood world of our remembered India, and the more colonial world of our city. ... What I didn't know, even after I had written my early books of fiction ... was that those two spheres of darkness had become my subject. Fiction, working its mysteries, by indirections finding directions out, had led me to my subject. But it couldn't take me all the way. -V.S. Naipaul, from Reading & Writing

Author Notes

Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was born of Indian ancestry in Chaguanas, Trinidad on August 17, 1932. He was educated at University College, Oxford and lived in Great Britain since 1950. From 1954 to 1956, he edited a radio program on literature for the British Broadcasting Corporation's Caribbean Service.

His first novel, The Mystic Masseur, was published in 1957. His other novels included A House for Mr. Biswas, A Bend in the River, Guerrillas, and Half a Life. In a Free State won the Booker Prize in 1971. He started writing nonfiction in the 1960s. His first nonfiction book, The Middle Passage, was published in 1962. His other nonfiction works included An Area of Darkness, Among the Believers, Beyond Belief, and A Turn in the South. He was knighted in 1990 and received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001. He died on August 11, 2018 at the age of 85.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Naipaul started his literary career writing comic novels set in Trinidad. Then he progressed to probing travel narratives. Recently, he published correspondence with his family (Between Father and Son: Family Letters, LJ 1/00). This slim volume, which contains two essays that originally appeared in 1999 in the New York Review of Books, traces his evolution as a writer. In the first essay, he reflects on the various literary influences and circumstances that shaped his career. In the second, he ruminates on what prevented him from writing a novel set in India, the land of his forebears. When he argues that "fiction works best in a confined moral and cultural area where the rules are generally known," Naipaul suggests that the heyday of the novel is long past. Naipaul writes with clarity, and his arguments are persuasive; one wishes that he had expanded further on his literary theories. Recommended for comprehensive collections of Naipaul's writings.DRavi Shenoy, North Central Coll. Lib., Naperville, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.